Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s latest TV ad launched Tuesday touts a program of the Department of Social Services that aims to move people off welfare rolls by helping them find jobs.
In the ad, titled “Paychecks,” Haley says her administration has moved more than 20,000 South Carolinians from welfare to work. The 30-second ad running statewide is the campaign’s third as she seeks re-election. It features Paula Martin of Spartanburg, who ends the commercial saying, “Nikki Haley makes a difference.”
“There’s dignity in working. It’s what I always wanted to do,” Martin says. “Gov. Haley’s program helped me get there.”
Martin began working at a Kangaroo gas station last November and took a new job at the Adidas distribution center earlier this year. She is also pursuing her GED, said campaign spokesman Chaney Adams.
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The ad never mentions the Department of Social Services. But it can be seen as her campaign’s first TV response to criticism of the agency, including ads funded by the campaign of her Democratic opponent, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, and the Democratic Governors Association. Petition candidate Tom Ervin, who dropped out of the Republican primary to be on the November ballot, said his concerns over children’s safety prompted him to run.
A state Senate panel began holding hearings in January on accusations that the agency’s emphasis on better numbers endangered children. Much of the questioning centered on the deaths of several children in Richland and Charleston counties. Former Director Lillian Koller resigned in June, a day before senators planned to take up a no-confidence resolution on her leadership. The issue was featured on a recent ABC World News Hidden America segment, which included interviews with four people described as South Carolina whistleblowers.
Haley has long pointed to the agency’s welfare-to-work program as a success, including as she continually rebuffed calls that she fire Koller. She has cited the “more than 20,000” figure since at least January, as part of her State of the State address.
“We should all remember what this success story proves – that those out there struggling day-to-day, they don’t want to spend their lives on the couch,” she said in January. “They want a chance for more, to make their children proud. It is our responsibility to give them that chance.”
According to updated numbers the campaign provided Tuesday, nearly 24,900 people stopped receiving welfare payments after getting a job between January 2011 and July 24 of this year.
An advocate for the poor, Sue Berkowitz of Appleseed Legal Justice Center, has said taking people off welfare rolls doesn’t mean they’re making a living wage.
In South Carolina, welfare pays a mother with two children an average of just $214 a month, among the lowest payments in the country. To qualify, parents must earn less than half the federal poverty level, meaning that mom with two children stops receiving welfare after getting work that pays the equivalent of a $9,895 yearly salary. The agency doesn’t track whether those moved off welfare rolls under the program secured full- or part-time work, said spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus.
In May, DSS provided a total of $2.7 million in monetary assistance to 12,410 families, impacting 21,160 children. That compares to 20,700 families, including 35,850 children, helped in January 2011, who were provided a total of $4.6 million, according to data on the agency’s website.